The human sexual response cycle that sex researchers, Masters & Johnson, proposed in 1966 includes four phases:
Excitement, plateau, climax and resolution.
And I believe it applies to not just sex, but most of life.
My Macbook Pro sat on my lap feeling neglected as my attention turned towards a glass of wine and Bachelor in Paradise. Each commercial break I swore I would show it some love, but TV and Cabernet just felt too good.
The Universe must have taken notice and sent a messenger to check in, asking what I was doing.
Chasing Biological Rewards
Dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins are the four neurochemicals responsible for happiness. We seek them out in everything – from food to Facebook likes – creating Cody’s aforementioned ‘neurochemical drip.’
I go to morning Crossfit to increase endorphins then reward myself with a donut. I reach for a latte for some serotonin while flirting with the cute barista, revelling in the oxytocin. Then I daydream of a tasty lunch that might hold me over until a glass of wine. Finally I take a hot shower, doused in dopamine, and can’t help but fantasize about the ultimate fix…
Drip, drip, drip.
The Female Orgasm
“Another dazzling trait of most women is their ability to orgasm,” wrote anthropologist, Helen Fischer, in The Anatomy of Love. “Some even compare female orgasm to the nipples on men–a useless characteristic in females dragged through evolution.”
Except it’s not entirely useless. While there is arguably no correlation between female orgasm and reproduction, it produces unparalleled physical pleasure. Dopamine surges and oxytocin is released for 18 seconds of ecstasy.
One of the greatest gifts from Mother Nature. An all expense paid vacation. A treat without the calories.
However, during climax the amygdala area of our brain lights up. And suddenly we realize that our vacation includes cash bars only and that calorie-free treat might trick our body into wanting more sugar.
A Constant Need for Climax
An increased density of enkephalins and opiate receptors can be also found in amydala. When experiencing a craving for pleasure inducing drugs these receptors becomes active. This gives the amydala an ability to inducing extreme feelings of pleasure as well as motivating pleasure seeking behavior. – The Neuroscience of Sexual Desire - Kristian Adams
“I want to be an eclipse chaser,” my coworker told me when she arrived back from Nashville, TN where she traveled to witness 2 minutes and 8 seconds of Mother Nature’s magic. “It was incredible.”
As she stood in total darkness, the only light that could be seen was her iPhone screen displaying the Google results of “next solar eclipse.” And we are all guilty of doing the same.
- At the end of my favorite show on Netflix I quickly search for a similar series
- On the last day of my trip I consider staying another day
- As I eat a donut I desperately crave more
- When I’ve had a great time on a date I obsessively check for follow-up texts and start making grand plans
But what’s so wrong with that?
The Human Sexual Response Cycle
Another pair of volunteers removed their gowns and climbed onto the exam table while Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson stood behind the glass wall, observing their latest clinical sex trial.
“You may begin,” Virgina Johnson instructed them over the small intercom as she clutched her clipboard, and Dr. Masters started the stopwatch.
Participant 1 climbed on top, and Participant 2 reached for her breasts. She slowly started to move her hips as if Juvenile’s ‘Slow Motion’ sounded through the hospital speakers and leaned down to meet his lips.
“0:29,” Dr. Masters murmured, observing the heart rate reading printout.
“Excitement,” Virginia added as she recorded the time that the first stage was met.
They went on to witness and record the subsequent phases of the sexual response cycle that we all know well.
- Plateau: Tension gives way to pleasure and each moment feels really, really good.
- Climax: The orgasmic release of the built up excitement. Euphoria.
- Resolution: The blissful come down, similar to savasana at the end of yoga.
Again and again for hundreds of volunteers. Each successful climax and zenned out collapse represented a data point that told a similar story, much like a tidal wave that predictably rises and falls.
Letting the Cycle Play Out
Drip, drip, drip.
While the dopamine drip might appease our brains in the present, it’s not allowing maximum pleasure in the end. Like a parent who feeds into a child’s every craving leaving him unsatisfied with a smart phone and wanting a drone. Or a serial dater who needs another immediate follow-up date to feel fulfilled. Like orgasms, the intensity lessens without an adequate amount of resolution and a return back to excitement.
While our brains are saying more, our bodies are saying chill out.
Life Is Like a Bunch of Orgasms
Mother Nature has given us a perfect example of pure bliss, as well as a reminder that pleasure is fleeting – and is meant to be that way.
- To fully enjoy a donut, we must savor the taste, delight in the sugar rush and turn back to healthy eating the next day
- To embrace the final episode our favorite TV show we must put away our laptops, only write during commercial breaks and wait patiently for next season
- To make the most out of relationships, we must take in every detail so we can remember them later rather than quickly reaching for another